In the long run, the future belongs to nuclear energy, the mid-term is for natural gas without CO2
The era of nuclear energy expects mankind in the future, in the medium - term, natural gas will remain the most promising energy resource , but technologies to reduce CO2 emissions need to be developed, said Carlo Rubbia, the Nobel Prize winner, a nominee for the 2020 Global Energy Prize in an interview with the President of the Global Energy Association Dr Sergei Brilev and Deputy Vice President Sophia Morgan.
Watch the full video for the details.
Brilev: Good morning and good afternoon to the subscribers of the Global Energy Association. This is the continuation of our series of talks to the people, who happened to find themselves in the shortlist for this year's Prize and today we are talking to none other than Professor Rubbia. Professor, I can't see your face.
Rubbia: Wait a minute. It's not enough light.
Brilev: Ah, now we can see you.
Rubbia: Now we all set.
Brilev: That's how life works after you get a Nobel Prize in Physics, it's on your mobile and it works perfectly well. I'm joined today by Sophia Morgan, who's an assistant of the Vice President of the Association and Professor Rubbia, of course. I've already mentioned him, being a Noble Prize winner in Physics of 1984, and who has been shortlisted for this year's Prize and he has also served many years ago on the International Committee of our Awards. Before I say anything else, may I confess, that I am in deep, deep love with your native town of Gorizia, this unique place on the Italian-Slovenian border.
Rubbia: Things are not getting very good those days. A lot of people don't find their jobs and so forth.
Brilev: I've heard that.
Rubbia: The borderline always complicated.
Brilev: Yes, but very few people realised that other than Berlin, Gorizia is the only place on Earth, where there was a wall, although the most famous photo from Gorizia from the Cold War era is when people played volleyball.
Brilev: The atmosphere there was somewhat different. We quite switching to lyrics, let's switch into Sophia, because she is our scientifically advanced person in the Association. Sophia, the floor is yours.
Morgan: Thank you. Dr Rubbia, though your Nobel Prize was for the particle physics for the last 20 years you have been influential in nuclear energy field and where you have been strong advocate for thorium. Why being the better nuclear fuel, thorium has so many opponents, it is cheap, it is safe it is free of radioactive base, it could have brought nuclear power to its height, but for some reason it didn't. Why?
Rubbia: Are you talking about nuclear power?
Rubbia: Well, it's a complicated business. Nuclear power really develops itself in conditions, which are no longer the conditions today. And so, therefore big changes are required in order to be able to make sure, that nuclear power is available, let's say to everybody, because any form of energy cannot be localized, only for a few people, therefore you have to make basic changes, especially the real question, which I have addressed to myself, is the possibility of using thorium instead of uranium as a main source of energy. Since thorium can be produced, it can produce very short much shorter lifetime from the point of view to radioactive substances, while uranium lasts for as you know for millions of years and this is something which is nobody knows how to solve. So, I believe the nuclear power will have a future, but the future for nuclear power will be only possible if there are more major changes and there are very few people today, which are willing now to change the situation, with respect to the original situation, that was in the past.
Brilev: Well, however the situation is changing. And I was reading this report, I think by Bloomberg agency, just yesterday, about major oil and gas companies, saying that they no longer are going to explore the existing oil and gas fields. I think, BP was mentioned among other companies like that, because a new era of alternative energy is about to emerge. Where do you see a space for the nuclear energy then?
Rubbia: I think, as I said nuclear power requires democratisation. Nuclear power has to be more democratic, than it is. Nuclear power is usually connected so much with questioned weapons, that only a few countries can really activate that. Well, where most of the needs exist today are not in those countries and the other countries, which are developing countries. So, only anything we do to convince a nuclear power to be an alternative source, must supply an answer also to developing countries, which have the need for doing that and the major reason, of course, is radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is too long thing to be considered valid, unless and the question is therefore to replace it with, as I said in the beginning, replacing the uranium with the thorium and also the other possibility is to eliminate the accelerated, replace accelerator, to accelerated particles. Today, in many countries, including Russia, there's a huge development of accelerating particles methods, and those methods can produced today enough energy, also to become sources of nuclear power. Therefore, association within the nuclear power and the accelerator technology, it seems to me as very important issue, which has to be understood, because accelerators are offering us the possibility to control on and off the source of energy, while nuclear power in itself is very difficult to control. If driven by an accelerator it becomes easy, you just switch off the accelerator and the thing disappears.
Brilev: How do you sell the nuclear power to the developing world, as you said, because the developing world may be rather confused? They look at Europe and they see very diverse examples, they see Russia, where 20% of electricity generation is based on nuclear energy, they look at France, when nearly 100% of electricity comes from nuclear stations, they look at the UK, which has rediscovered nuclear energy in this last several years, but they also look at Germany, which has been systematically closing... There are, of course, countries out there China, India, Iran, for that matter, who are building nuclear plants. Egypt and Turkey are also going to build nuclear stations with the Russian technical help, by the way, but what do you say to people, who look at Germany and say, we don't need it?
Rubbia: Well, I mean Germany in principle is capable of producing nuclear power, whenever they want. Now they are very concerned about nuclear power. They want to have energy from wind and from other forms, that it seems to me, this is not a practical solution, it seems to me that the renewable energies are not really a practical solution for the mass use within the world. In the sense that they are more expensive than other sources, they are, in fact, very difficult to operate and therefore it seems to me, that an alternative to renewable energies are a fundamental item, which we have to pursue. I don't believe that nuclear energy will or renewable energy will be able to replace the ordinary production of energy. Most of the energy in Germany is produced by coal and this is certainly, it's not a good thing, because coal is a full…Natural gas would be much better. We develop for instance method, in which we take natural gas and we produce natural gas without CO2 emissions. We take natural gas and through the certain technology, which I have developed, it is possible to collect the energy, coming from the hydrogen, but do not use the carbon to produce CO2 and therefore it becomes producing black cardboard, which is material which can be used for many different things. So, it would seem to me, that is something very exciting, which should be developed industrially, we do need to have some industrial people, willing to take this over. From scientific point of view, the experiment itself, it's very well-known from the point of view of the basic science. But basic science is not enough, you need also a big investment, big development. But in my view, natural gas with no CO2 emission, it seems to me is a very interesting alternative, which is developing.
Brilev: Well, this answers my initial question about major oil and gas companies, announcing this last several days, that they are not going to explore the existing oil and new and gas new fields, because the renewables are replacing the sources of energy, which we're used to, but are they deceiving yesterday?
Rubbia: Well, it seems to me the question is that energy can come from nuclear, atoms, atomic energy is in principle extremely valuable in the sense, that it produces a huge amount of energy for a various most used resources. But, it's certainly something, which has to be blended with the possibility of developing energy from natural resources, as I said, there’s an example of the natural gas, of which there's plenty. If you don't really use, there are many other sources of natural gas. All the oceans are full of plates, which are fundamentally natural gas. So, we have natural gas to go for thousands of years of very effective utilization. And, if we solve the problem of the carbon CO2 emissions, and we can do that without CO2 emissions, there is no reason, why we don't should not use it. We continue to develop a situation in which energy is produced abundantly free and without any drawbacks.
Brilev: Professor Rubbia, you and I in our blue suits may be offending our good friend Sophia in her green dress today, which is to underline her devotion to the renewables, so I'd rather shut up now and give floor to her. Sophia.
Morgan: Yeah, you guessed my question will be right about renewables. I know that a lot of work have been done by you in this field, providing new solutions for solar thermal technologies. Did you bring something from the nuclear there? I mean this melted salt.
Rubbia: As I said at the beginning to your colleague, you have either energy from atoms or energy for nuclei. Energy for atoms is certainly in the form of natural gas, it's certainly the easiest thing to do. Natural gas is the advance to respect to coal, which is dramatically used by almost everybody, they have no emissions, it's clean, it can be produced in a simple way, as I said, if you do that in such a way that the CO2 emissions are under control or eliminated, then it seems to me, that the future of mankind could very well develop in a situation, in which you develop energy from natural gas, from various sources, conventional unconventional sources of natural gas. And you can go on until such a time you will develop an appropriate form of nuclear, which eventually will come, but will not be the nuclear today, would be something different.
Brilev: Professor Rubbia, lastly, on the 7th of September our International Award Committee, which you used to be a member, will gather to decide the fates of this year's Prizes. The Prizes are being awarded now under three subnominations: Traditional energy or Conventional energy, if you please, Non-conventional energy or Renewable, if you please, and New Applications of Energy, but that's the matter to be decided by the current membership of the International Committee. Will you please share some of your memories about how the Committee works? What do you actually wish to the International Committee members? What do you recommend to them other than, of course, giving the Prize to you?
Rubbia: I mean the Committee are difficult things to solve. I mean, people have to be very careful about the giving opinion to the Committee. I wish, that Committee will find a proper way of choosing between the alternatives, they've indicated. I have all the respect for them, I'm sure, they will come up with a good solution. And whichever solution comes out it will be very the right one.
Brilev: That's a very good answer. Thank you so much for your time, we wish you good luck, always good luck to all of the people from the shortlist and we'll see what happens on 7th of September or rather on the 8th, when the decision will be announced. Thank you very much!
Rubbia: Thank you for coming and thank you for talking to you.
Brilev: Grazie mille!